One of the most positive aspects of my more recent spiritual travels has been the discovery of a movie; initially a “failed” movie which went on to become a cult film. I’m referring to The Big Lebowski from those trend setting movie-makers The Coen Brothers. Starring one of my very favourite actors, Jeff Bridges, the film tells the story of an all time Los Angeles “bum” called Jeffrey Lebowski but nicknamed the “Dude.” One day the Dude’s home is broken into and his rug is peed on by two mobsters who mistake him for a different Jeffrey Lebowski, a millionaire whose wife owes their boss big money. After talking it over with his equally eccentric friends the Dude pays a visit to the real Lebowski to ask for a little retribution for his soiled rug. He is consequently sucked into a hilarious saga where he ends up recruited to be the liaison between the real Lebowski and the captors of his kidnapped wife. The thing that stands the most about the Dude is his gentle and totally laid back way of dealing with almost anything. His motto is “take it easy man.”
One of the many millions who’ve been inspired by the Dude’s way of “take it easy, man” is a guy named Oliver Benjamin, and the Dude gave him an idea. He’d been a spiritual searcher for years but never really clicked with any specific religion. Yet he found in the character of the Dude something of a role model for life, a life that showed a middle finger to the aggressive and dog eat dog worlds of both capitalism and nihilism, seeing a better path as one which simply says “f**k it, let’s go bowling.”
Thus Dudeism was born, and there are now tens of thousands of Ordained Dudeist Priests who basically try to follow the principles of the “world’s slowest growing religion.” I was Ordained a Dudeist a few years ago and I had the privilege of meeting Oli (aka The Dudely Lama) when he visited my home town with Thomas Fazi, an Italian film producer and his crew. They’re currently making a global documentary on the Dudeist phenomena and they interviewed me at the place where I sit, reflect and write. Both because Dudeism has become such a part of me, as well as the fact that the questions I was asked by Oli were so significant for the stuff on write on this blog, I thought I’d share the interview in full.
1) You’re a priest and a magician. Do you see any parallels between magic and religion? Is religion a sort of functional illusion, as Great Dude in History Kurt Vonnegut suggested?
In a sense, yeah, Vonnegut was right. Religion (every religion) at its best can make possible a real sense of connection to the great mystery beyond our comprehension. Whether there be an actual ‘Dude in the Sky’ or not the cosmos is buzzing with creativity, wonder and natural magic. Religion, by ritual, metaphor and sacrament can plug us in to that reality. But it’s not for everyone. Science – particularly cosmology and quantum psychics – can do the same, as can stage illusion. I ain’t kidding. Modern stage magicians are usually incredible skeptics and rightly so. They know how easy it is to dupe people. They can see how some of the more unscrupulous Ministers use persuasive techniques (and sometimes even manipulative trickery) to con folk out of cash. But stage magicians ought not throw the divine baby out with the ‘holy’ water. Stage magic can be a priestly function. It can shock, enchant and awaken people to wonder in a way that much of religion has forgotten how to do. Bring back the mystery and awe I say.
Of course religion was born out of magic. It all began thousands of years ago around the shamanic camp fires, where ritual elders would perform magic tricks in order to awaken their tribes to the power of the universe.
2) Do you agree that Jesus was a Great Dude in History? Or is Dudeism a bit out of its element on that one?
Oh yeah Jesus was indeed the Mr. El Duderino of the 1st Century. I’ve just finished writing a new book, which was all about stripping away the Christian vestments of this Galilean street teacher, to see what kind of a dude he really was. And to help me in my research I not only used the latest historical critical sources from the Churchian world (we call it Jesus Quest scholarship) but also sought out a few dozen super cool writers of a world that is often seen as the antithesis to Churchianity – Paganism. I interviewed many of the leading lights within the Druid, Wiccan and Heathen communities, and the Jesus of their imagination was a dude like you’ve never seen him before. With their insights, together with what I learned from the Jesus Quest, I was able to see Jesus as a counter cultural shaman / mystic who’s essential message was ‘Hey, don’t let anyone try and put you in a box man and, like, never feel you gotta apologize for being who you are. You’re special – in fact you’re a god/goddess. And don’t put me on a pedestal either – we’re all brothers and sisters you know. The Dude up there is actually the Dude down here, inside every one of you.’
3) You’re one of the most open-minded priests out there. What impels you to remain in the Christian fold? How do you distance yourself from all the baggage and associations of the established Churches?
Well thank you. I guess I still stay ‘within the Christian fold’ because I still love the main man (the 1st C El Duderino) and still feel that there’s hidden treasure lying underneath all the crap and bullshit of the institution. But I left my own particular church (The Church of England) about this time last year because I ended up feeling I could be a better friend on the outside than within. I could have easily gone the Pagan way because I’ve made such great friends among them and have been awakened to the beauty and power of nature. But I’m still a priest and see no reason why I can’t hold these two worlds together. So I’ve joined an Independent Catholic Church (the OEC); one which allows me to be exactly who I am. Cool hey!
4) What insights and lessons do the Jesus of the Gospels and the Dude of Lebowski have in common?
Well can’t you imagine this scene? The real way it happened. A reading from the Gospel According to St. Jeffrey chapter 8:
The tight assed teachers of the law brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
But Jesus yawned and sat down on the dirt and began to doodle on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he laboriously looked up, adjusted his shades, and said to their leader, “Hey lighten up man and, like, as if you are all perfect. Come on, you gotta treat the ladies with some respect. Otherwise what goes around comes around.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
“But she’s a sinner,” said the guy with the coin purse held between his buttocks.
Jesus raised his head once more, brushed his matted hair out of his eyes and said, “Well that’s just, like, your opinion man, now leave her alone unless any of you can honestly say you’re better than her.’ After that they bothered her no more.
5) Who are some other Great Dudes you admire?
Rather than rabbit on about my favorite long gone Dudes (like the Buddha and Francis of Assisi) I’m gonna just mention two modern day UK dudes who are giants in my life.
Peter Owen Jones – the coolest and most relevant priest in the Church of England today, famed for his amazing around the world adventures as an ‘extreme pilgrim.’ Peter is unafraid to put his money where his mouth is and search for the divine spark in the most unexpected places.
Philip Carr-Gomm – the inspirational hippy chief of the world’s largest Druid order (OBOD). A man well versed in both native indigenous western traditions as well as the mysticism of the Far East, especially Jainism. A truly fabulous dude!
6) What kinds of stuff do you like to sermonize about?
Well in a way I feel that the biggest need in the fast paced and success oriented modern western world is the slow the hell down, and to stop being so damned obsessed with success and perfection. I love the Navajo Indian rugs that have a deliberate imperfection sewn into them. They symbolize the necessary truth that perfection is the ability to include imperfection.
I also love to help people find their own inner gold, magic, wisdom. I actually believe we all have a wizard living inside us – a wise old man / woman who can guide us if we only slow down and listen. We don’t need books or so-called sacred systems to tell us what to believe. We can be own teachers.
And I love to talk about the founder of my own tradition as a man who was often muddled and messy and pretty beaten up by life – yet he always managed to say the profoundest things. This is an example of my sermonizing on him. I’ll read it to you. It’s from my book The Path of The Blue Raven (an adventure into the beauty of Nature Based Traditions and perhaps the most Dudeist of all my books):
The story of Jesus begins in shit and ends in shit. In fact there’s shit all the way through! If there was a historical birth scene in that ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’, would it really be like the good old fashioned nativity plays our kids star in, or the over-sanitised Christmas card images? Don’t get me wrong, all these images add to the magical nature of Christmas, and I’m all for that, but we mustn’t see them as real. No, the actual story is not so quaint. It is however deeply relevant, for it’s about a poor and homeless human family ending up in nothing more than an animal shack. No comfortable room with a bed. Just some dirty straw and a bucket of water. No fresh clean sheets and a cot. Just some old rags and a food trough. Think about the image. Apart from the parents, whose eyes would have first glimpsed this little one? Not the shepherds, nor the Magi, but those of the ox, ass and probably a rat or two. This is fantastic. It’s a marvellously messy and muddled up picture of a ‘god who meets us in the shit’ – divinity intertwined with the animal muck! How native! How Celtic! How wonderful!
And what about the wandering preacher’s final hours? Well the story tells of a gruesome experience – one load of shit after another. He was betrayed, rejected, beaten, spat upon, humiliated and then killed in the ugliest way possible. And the period between birth and death was not much better. He was misunderstood, called names, run out of town, viewed with suspicion and cursed with a group of total misfits who kept getting it wrong. This is a god-image who lives in the gutter rather than at the top of the ladder.
On top of this he also seemed to be able to single out other people who lived the shitiest lives – the beaten up by life, the marginalised, the unclean, the so called prostitutes and sinners. He befriended them with compassion and showed them a way out of their self-despising mess. And here’s the really important part of the story. He didn’t say ‘join a religion’. He didn’t say ‘believe in this or that doctrine’. He would not even allow people to bow down to him, as if to say ‘don’t look at me either’. He enabled them to find a way out because he changed their view of the divine and he changed their view of themselves. He helped them to feel good about who they were – valued, special, loved.
And finally the 7th question) There have to be 7 questions – the magic number 😉
So what’s your essential message in a nutshell?
Easy. Accept what you cannot change. Change what you can. But, above all else, be yourself and look for the magic.
Mark Townsend is a combination of priest, magician and writer. He uses seemingly opposing forces as equal gifts in our search for the meaning of life. As well as being an ordained priest, Mark is a member of The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids – a world-wide fellowship of those to try to follow a nature based way of life. He also utilises his priestly skills as an Alternative Celebrant, and offers various rites of passage to folk who do not limit themselves to Christian practises. He creates meaningful services and blessings that reflect the spiritual path of his wide variety of clients. www.magicofsoul.com